Ownership change could make Mets big players in free agency

Hope.

That’s the feeling that has been instilled in New York Mets fans near and far with the news that billionaire Steven A. Cohen and the Wilpon family are working toward an agreement that will make Cohen the majority owner, according to Bloomberg. The plan calls for team CEO Fred Wilpon and his son, team COO Jeff Wilpon, to remain in their respective roles for the next five years, according to a statement released by the Mets.

After a decade of being beaten down while watching the cross-town rival Yankees spend year after year, Mets fans can hope that soon they will be matching their rivals from the Bronx dollar for dollar. They can hope the Mets will finally be players for the biggest free agents each offseason.

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New York Mets CEO Fred Wilpon (R) and COO Jeff Wilpon (2nd L) will remain in their respective roles for the next five years. (Reuters/Ray Stubblebine)
New York Mets CEO Fred Wilpon (R) and COO Jeff Wilpon (2nd L) will remain in their respective roles for the next five years. (Reuters/Ray Stubblebine)

They can dream of a future in which there will be less talk about being creative in the offseason and more talk of how to land the likes of Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole. 

There’s hope that the Mets will be one of baseball’s biggest power brokers.

Not spending enough

For far too long, the seemingly biggest gripe that Mets fans have against their ownership group is that they do not believe enough money is being invested into the payroll. Mets fans demand more from a team located in New York City, but the Mets don’t come close to spending like the Yankees.

The Mets used to be one of the biggest spenders, but their dips in payroll are correlated to the Bernie Madoff scandal. The team has not finished in the top 10 in final payroll since the 2011 season, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, including a four-season stretch in which they spent less than $110 million.

Last year’s opening day payroll marked the franchise’s high, per Cot’s, but it still lagged behind some of the game’s top spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs. The team passed on being serious bidders for stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado despite claiming to be all-in on winning in 2019.

The Mets enter this offseason with a chance to build around their young core yet indications from general manager Brodie Van Wagenen is the team will not be big spenders. That’s one of the reasons why Zack Wheeler landed with the Phillies on a five-year, $118-million deal instead of re-signing in New York.

That deal represents why a sizable portion of Mets fans are upset with the team and its spending habits.

Wheeler represented a strong talent that the team developed into a pitcher that several teams valued for at least $100 million, but the Mets let him walk out the door instead of re-signing him. Big market teams should be able to re-sign their young talent during a time when they are in a win-now mode.

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon waves to some fans before a game against the Houston Astros at First Data Field. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)
New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon waves to some fans before a game against the Houston Astros at First Data Field. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

The baggage that comes with Cohen

With new ownership looming due to this bombshell development, the biggest fallout would seem to be that the Mets can change their habits and give fans a reason to be excited again.

Cohen, who is remaining on as CEO and President of Point72 Asset Management, will be the wealthiest owner in baseball once he’s installed in his new role.

Time will tell whether or not Cohen is a good owner, as there is more to owning a team than just spending, but there’s reason to believe that spending should not be an issue for such a wealthy individual.  

Beyond their spending, the Wilpons have been criticized for being too meddlesome and having too much influence in the day-to-day operations, per sources.

It’s not unfathomable to wonder if a day could come when the Mets — not the Yankees — are the biggest spenders in town, especially if Cohen isn’t concerned with the luxury tax.

That’s not to say that Cohen comes without any baggage.

His former company, SAC Capital Advisors, agreed to pay $1.8 billion in 2013 in connection with a guilty plea to fraud charges and an SEC investigation. 

Last year, a lawsuit was filed against Point72 Asset Management alleging gender and pay discrimination.

The grass may not be greener on the other side. The New York Knicks are a prime example of how a willingness to spend doesn’t automatically equate to winning although there’s no salary cap in baseball.

It’s been 33 years since the Mets last won a World Series, a hellacious drought for a passionate fan base, and that stretch could extend for the next five years as they wait for this transition to finalize.

But, for some, there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel that their Mets could be on their way back to operating like a New York City team instead of like the Brewers or Reds.

Finances may no longer be the topic du jour regarding the Mets.

It may just switch back to which top free agent they will sign in the offseason, not which second-tier player are they going to pursue in the hope he outperforms his salary.

For most Mets fans, that’s a future worth hoping for.

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